Santa may be content shoveling shortbread cookies into his rosy red cheeks every Christmas Eve, but this winter, it’s time to shake up your holiday regimen.
While free of the same oppressive parameters as Thanksgiving dinner, there are still a host of sweets and delectables you’re expected to consume at least once every holiday season; wintertime specialties you’d never consider putting in your mouth at any other time of the year, like candy canes, eggnog, and whatever the hell mincemeat might be.
Inspired by Kris Kringle’s epic annual journey around the world, we’ve tapped inspiration from across the globe to deliver you creative international twists to your Yuletide victuals that improve on the traditional versions.
Yes, we’ve made a list. You can check it. Twice. Just don’t leave the oven on.
The Edible Holiday Tradition: Candy canes, which are ubiquitous this time of year, except where you really need them: in a stiff drink.
The Creative Intercontinental Twist: Candy cane martinis, which go down sweetly, smoothly, and easier on your dental work. First, crush enough candy canes to cover a small plate, using the splinters to rim a customary martini glass (using anything natural and sticky as an adherent, like a drop of simple syrup). In an ice-filled shaker, add 3 ounces of vodka (whipped cream-flavored vodka works great, too, should your sweet tooth rival Buddy the Elf’s), three ounces of peppermint schnapps, and three ounces of white chocolate liqueur. Shake, pour, and hang a tiny candy cane on the side. Then get ready to make more once your friends get a taste of this eye-catching cocktail.
The Edible Holiday Tradition: Eggnog, that rather thick, weird-flavored blend of milk, cream, sugar, egg yolks, and whipped egg whites that usually comes out of a carton and totally makes you fat. But sadly, won’t get you buzzed.
The Creative Intercontinental Twist: Añogo, which is like the love child of a Tequila añejo old fashioned and eggnog, as created by San Francisco barman H. Joseph Ehrmann, who ages his eggnog for three months. But you just need to take four ounces of whatever eggnog you can get your hands on and cut through its cloying sweetness with 1 ½ ounces of Tequila añejo and ½ ounce of Amontillado sherry. Stir those over ice and garnish with a flamed orange peel. Then repeat for every guest who materializes around your tree this year.
The Edible Holiday Tradition: British-style mincemeat pie, which notably contains minced ingredients like strong spices, dried fruit, and nuts. But notably does not contain meat, in one of the season’s harshest annual examples of false-advertising.
The Creative Intercontinental Twist: Keema pie, which taps the far superior cuisine of Britain’s former colony, India, for a flavor-rich blend of minced lamb, curry, and vegetables that gets tucked under a blanket of potatoes in the style of shepherd’s pie. So yes, there’s meat. And no dried fruit. So you already know it’s significantly better. Our apologies to dried fruit.
The Edible Holiday Tradition: Latkes and brisket, those ever-present Hanukkah staples of varying quality, depending on the bubbe making them.
The Creative Intercontinental Twist: “The Big Maccabee,” a hulking Southern BBQ-laced sandwich created by cookbook author Natasha Feldman at her recent L.A. Hanukkah pop-up. Sort of like the Thanksgiving Leftovers sandwich of holidays past, you’ll follow her lead in bookending a generous portion of tender smoked brisket between two fried latkes, with a scattering of coleslaw and acidic pickles.
The Edible Holiday Tradition: Honey-baked ham. Okay, to be honest, we can find no fault with ham, honey-baked or otherwise. Considering everything it’s done for us.
The Creative Intercontinental Twist: Nonetheless, you can make agave-glazed ham, which will lend your smoky pork butt a deeper, more complex, and caramelized sweetness than honey provides through the nectar of Mexico’s legendary maguey. For the glaze, which will go onto a bone-in, spiral-sliced ham, you’ll put one cup of orange juice, a ½ cup of marmalade, a ½ cup of agave sugar, a ¼ cup of Dijon mustard, two tablespoons of whole grain mustard, and a teaspoon of all-spice into a saucepan and reduce that over medium-high heat until it becomes a syrup. Brush that on the meat before it goes into the oven and is sealed, then baste the ham, uncovered, during the final 20 minutes of cooking.
The Edible Holiday Tradition: Yorkshire pudding. Which is disappointingly nothing at all like Jell-O pudding, but a spongy soft popover made from a simple recipe of flour, milk, and eggs popularized by England.
The Creative Intercontinental Twist: We’ll look to Jamaica to spice things up with a jerk-spiced pudding that would scorch the powdered wigs off the folks in Yorkshire. Just add four teaspoons of jerk seasoning (your own blend or one from the store) to your flour and egg mixture, before blending in the milk. Et voila! As we say in Jamaican.